Saturday, January 7, 2012

Plant Rescue 102 - Malabar Spinach

Basella alba

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
       Basella alba, or Malabar spinach (also Phooi leaf, Red vine spinach, Creeping spinach, Climbing spinach) is a perennial vine found in the tropics where it is widely used as a leaf vegetable.
       Basella alba grows well under full sunlight in hot, humid climates and in areas lower than 500 m above sea level. Growth is slow in low temperatures resulting in low yields. Flowering is induced during the short-day months of November to February. It grows best in sandy loam soils rich in organic matter with pH ranging from 5.5 to 8.0.
        Typical of leaf vegetables, Malabar spinach is high in vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and calcium. It is low in calories by volume, but high in protein per calorie. The succulent mucilage is a particularly rich source of soluble fiber. Among many other possibilities, Malabar spinach may be used to thicken soups or stir-fries with garlic and chili peppers.
      Thank you Wikipedia.  So why am I writing about a vine that loves to grow in stinking, hot weather here in early January.  Because it likes to grow in stinking, hot weather.  In the nineties with high humidity, the stuff will grow a foot a day.  When your beautiful lettuce crop is only a figment of your imagination, this stuff is producing lush green leaves that can be eaten raw in a salad, or cooked in various ways.  Unlike New Zealand Spinach which didn't entice (that's being nice) me at all, this stuff is actually quite tasty.  And attractive, especially the Rubra or red stem variety.
      Now for the downside.  Although you can buy the seeds through catalogs, you will hardly ever see them on a seed rack at a nursery.  Ask a sales person about Malabar Spinach and they will give you a blank stare.  I have never seen Malabar as a live starter plant at a nursery.  Last year I talked to another gardener who had Malabar seeds on hand, so I "borrowed" eighteen seeds to plant.  Put them in their cell packs, watered them, talked to them, kept them warm.  Nary a one sprouted.  It has never been easy for me to start.
      So imagine my utter delight last September when I spotted some Rubra Malabar growing on top of one of the compost piles in the park:

Whoopee, Malabar Spinach,  9/7/11
      There were several plants in different places, and yes, I greedily took them all.  But now, how do you keep these heat loving machines alive till next June when they will thrive?  Any which way you can.
      Ah, I have digressed.  Wandered far from my title of Plant Rescue 102.  One of the vines I had pulled from the pile in September did not take well to upheaval, and was rotting at the base by December:

Not looking so well,  12/18/11
Where be his roots?
     So with nothing to do just a week before Christmas (ha, ha), I hacked this failing vine into little pieces, each with a leaf or seed stalk node:

      Having learned my lesson from previous failures with my cloning adventures using garden soil, I was a good boy and purchased a bag of seed starter soil.  And searched the garage for the Rootone that I vaguely remembered from maybe twenty years ago.  Searched the web, found out that the Rootone was probably still good.  So I dabbed it on the cuts, and planted the pieces in the seed starter soil on 12/18/11:

Malabar cuttings,  12/18/11
      Which finally brings us back around to this morning.  The cuttings have rooted well and are starting to sprout.  In the future, I will try to start the cuttings directly in cell packs, to avoid the next step of having to pot these up.  But for this try, I wanted to be able to watch the root development.

New growth,  1/7/12

Great root development, 1/7/12
      So I will pot these this morning, and then try to keep them happy for a few months till it warms up.  Maybe they can go in a cold frame in April.  But so far, a good start to Plant Rescue - Malabar style.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you.
    The information I need right now :)